On 9 September 2016, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs unveiled the reform of the current work permit regulations for foreigners living in China. The changes will merge the various regulations for foreign specialists with the application procedures of ordinary foreigners. The reform will replace the current work permit booklet with an ID card similar to the one Chinese already have, and implement a grading system, which will rank foreign workers according to their experience and skills.
Whereas the state media has mainly focused on the benefits of the new ID card, such as printing out train tickets without having to wait in line at the counter, foreign expats are more worried about the announced grading system.
According to the reform plans, which will be tested beginning from October 2016 onwards in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, Hebei, Anhui, Shandong, Guangdong, Sichuan and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region before being implemented nationwide in April 2017, foreigners applying for a Chinese work permit will be graded according to a 3-grade points system.
Although many of the specific requirements are yet to be defined, a recent Circular published by the Shanghai government (only in Chinese) might serve as a first indicator for what to expect.
A, B, or C – That is the question
Grade A (>85 points): This grade applies mainly to foreign high-end talents in specific industries as well as in higher education.
In particular, the following qualifications are required:
- Winner of recognized awards in academia, business, arts, entertainment, or sports
- Holder of a high position in academia, business, entertainment, or sports
- Entrepreneurial and/or innovative talent
- Young and outstanding talent with a degree from a Top 200 University or a Ph.D. or higher from a Chinese University
- Former top management position at a Top 500 Company
Grade B (60-85 points): This category concerns most of the professionals, which are currently holding a Chinese work permit under the current regulations, that is:
- Holder of at least a bachelor’s degree and two years of work experience
- Previous work experience in certain foreign organizations
- Holder of a Master’s degree from a Top 100 university
- Outstanding graduates with Master’s degrees or higher from a Chinese university
- Foreign language teachers teaching in their native language and having at least a Bachelor’s degree from a country, where the language is the native language plus two years of work experience in education (work experience not needed for graduates with major in either their native language or education)
Grade B work permits will be also subject to restrictions and limitations by local governments.
Grade C (<60 points): This category applies to all, who do not qualify for either Grade A or B and whose number of allocated points are below 60 points.
How do I get points?
Although the specific criteria will be decided by local governments, at least six criteria will be important:
- Chinese language proficiency
- University Degree from top international or Chinese university
- Work experience
- Location in China (Tier 3 cities will get higher points than a Tier 1 Megapolis)
Observations by ECOVIS Beijing
According to the information, which is available so far, the major changes will be procedural rather than substantial. Since the reform of the visa regulations in 2013, foreigners applying for work permits in China must have at least a Bachelor’s degree, be older than 24 years, and have 2 years of work experience in the field of the industry they are applying for. Expats meeting the requirements would now be categorized at least as Grade B. The different visa regulations for high-end talents already in place are now summarized as Grade A.
If anything, the new point-based system will rather open some new channels of obtaining a work permit for foreigners, who previously struggled to meet the official criteria, such as recent graduates from Chinese universities or proficient mandarin speakers. This only reinforces regulations, which have already been in place in Shanghai since 2015 on a national level.
Given the vagueness of the wording, especially with regard to limitations and restrictions, it is way too early to make specific predictions on how the reform will affect the current distribution of work permits. ECOVIS Beijing, therefore, recommends to pay attention to circulars and regulations by your local government and to contact your legal consultant for further details.
ECOVIS Beijing is a consultancy focused on accounting, audit, tax and legal advisory. If you have any further questions with regard to work visas and permits in China, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manuela Reintgen has been living and working in Shanghai and Beijing since 2009 and recently joined ECOVIS Beijing as Manager of the Business Development team. Having focused on foreign direct investment into China for the last few years, she advises clients on all aspects of establishing and doing business in China. Contact: email@example.com
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